With so many muscles and tendons in our feet muscle strain is always a possibility. Considering we stand on them all day, these injuries are painful and extremely debilitating.
How Does This Happen?
Muscles can stretch or even tear for several reasons.
- Injury and trauma
- Sloppy exercise techniques (failure to warm up properly, for example)
- Weak muscles due to lack of exercise
These situations put the soft tissues of your feet under abnormal pressure, which leads to strained muscles (sometimes known as pulled muscles). The term also applies to the tendons attaching the muscle to the bone.
Muscle strain isn’t restricted to exercise injuries or lack of exercise. Everyday situations can be to blame. Twisting your foot running for the train or tripping up the stairs will have the same effect.
Cold weather also makes it worse – indeed, this problem is much more common during winter. Muscles are stiffer in the cold, which makes them more vulnerable to injury.
What Are the Symptoms of a Muscle Strain?
If you pull a muscle, you’ll instantly notice:
- Pain or tenderness
- Redness and/or swelling
- Muscle spasms
- Tightness and limited movement
Mild strains can ease without professional help but don’t ignore them altogether. Even minor issues affect your posture as you try to alleviate the pressure on the painful area and this will go on to create more problems.
How Bad Is the Strain?
Muscle strains fall into three categories.
Grade 1: Mild. Very little or no swelling and pain may not appear until the day after the event. It’s unlikely there are any muscle tears.
Grade 2: Moderate. Swelling and/or bruising and pain from the start. You may also notice problems with strength and movement. This means you have several tears in the muscle fibres.
Grade 3: Severe. Acute pain, bruising and inflammation. Unfortunately, you have many muscle tears.
Should You Treat This at Home?
The R.I.C.E method may well be sufficient for grade 1 (mild) strains. Indeed, it’s wise to use it at once for any level of strain.
REST: Rest the injury as much as possible for 48 hours.
ICE: Apply an icepack to the strained muscle for 10 – 20 minutes at least 3 or 4 times a day. Don’t apply it directly to the skin. Wrap it in a clean tea towel. This will cool the injured muscle and ease the swelling.
COMPRESS: Wrap the injured area with an elasticated bandage. This also helps to ease the inflammation but ensure it isn’t too tight as this restricts circulation.
ELEVATE: When you’re sitting or lying down support the injured foot by resting it on a pillow or cushion.
R.I.C.E should be enough to ease mild strains completely in 48 to 72 hours. Once the swelling subsides (and only then) you can apply heat to help the healing process further. Anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen can also work but always check this is safe for you. The pharmacist can help.
For grade 2 or 3 situations, or if the symptoms persist it’s time to seek professional help.
Thank Goodness for Your Podiatrist
Continuous acute pain and swelling may indicate fractures or serious tears so your doctor should be the first place to go. Once this is under control your podiatrist can support your recovery.
At Feet By Pody we can help with exercises to encourage healing and build strength and flexibility in the injured muscles. A biomechanical assessment or custom orthotics may also be used to improve lower limb alignment and prevent further injuries.